Monday 26 January 2015

Van Morrison at Celtic Connections

Van was definitely the man in Glasgow.

It is under an hour since Van Morrison left the stage at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, leaving his band to jam on for a good 5-10 minutes. He's not one for chit chat between songs, or even allowing time for applause between songs, and he left the stage twice whilst still singing, but Van the Man led his band through an incredible performance tonight.

Van Morrison was playing as part of Celtic Connections 2015 and I have my brother to thank for buying me a ticket for tonight. I was excited yet nervous ahead of the show, not knowing what he would play and also having heard rumours about him being a tad grumpy at times.

I needn't have worried, I'm still under the spell he magically wove tonight. It was a truly majestic performance - vocally and musically. 

Our seats were high, only a few from the back, centre stage and we captured the beautiful Concert Hall acoustics in all their glory. 

Van's band took to the stage all dressed in black - guitar, bass/double bass, drums, piano/organ/keys/trumpet and a backing singer. They launched into an instrumental jazz number and then on strode Van Morrison to jam along on saxophone. They were in sensational form from the off.

Dropping in an Please Don't Go early on, which led into Parchman and Don't Stop was a wise move, the audience seemed spellbound at the vocal delivery and the tightness of the band. Van was on his mouth organ at this point and he also played guitar at times.

Dressed in black, with hat and shades, there was no doubt who was the boss as Van conducted and instructed the band through the performance - letting them to know when to up the pace, bring it down, extend the jam, even change instruments or to bring it to a close.

This led to a stunning run of songs with the band playing beautiful dreamy music at times, allowing Van Morrison to sing his poetic love songs over the top. Moondance was gorgeous, Sometimes We Cry was packed with soul, In The Garden was quite simply breathtaking as the lights dimmed and Van brought the music right down before letting rip with his vocals and the band came crashing back in.

Ending with the beautiful Into the Mystic and Ballerina, Van Morrison walked slowly off the stage whilst still singing to rapturous applause, leaving the band to jam on and take turns in the spotlight before a note was handed to the organ/piano player telling him to bring things to a close.

I've seen many legends grace stages in Glasgow in my 21-years of gig-going but tonight was possibly the best of the lot, certainly the best I have seen in a long, long time. Van Morrison's voice was effortless from the off - gentle when required, soaring and soulful throughout, his backing band were just exceptional - capable of reacting to his needs and producing moments of truly beautiful and dreamy music that you could get lost in.

What a show!

Sunday 25 January 2015

Modern Nature

The Charlatans are back, again. As always, they have never really been away, although this time they came closer than ever with guitarist Mark Collins admitting that when they played the Royal Concert Hall in memory of their drummer Jon Brookes, he didn't think he would be playing with The Charlatans again.

That concert and the display of passionate support from fans gave the band a shot in the arm to reconvene for the first Charlatans album in 5-years.

Modern Nature is a cracking album, full of warmth, taking in all kinds of styles and influences and sounding superbly fresh and full of energy for it. There are references to the past and dreams throughout the album

Talking In Tones is pretty different from everything else on the album, the verses are pretty cold but the chorus comes in all warm with Burgess singing;

I feel strengthened, by your presence
It's like heaven, in sixes and sevens

Warm sunshine vibes are all over So Oh, slide guitar piercing an acoustic flow and Burgess coming in all dreamy and lush. It is a beautiful song that came out at the end of 2014 and I played it over and over again.

Come Home Baby has a real old school Charlatans vibe, flowing superbly, the band sounding super tight yet with that beautiful loose feel that so many Charlatans songs have over the years. Burgess is in singsongy spoken word mode through the verses before the chorus explodes in. The band sound superb, full of life and energy, the gospel vocals just lifting the huge chorus even higher.

Come home baby, come home baby
Kiss me gently,
I can't wait don't hesitate lets be together

The soulful influences of Curtis Mayfield have been displayed before, especially on the Wonderland album, and the are all over Keep Enough with some gorgeous string arrangements soaring over the bands slick soul vibe.

Is this the beginning
Cause it feels like the start

In The Tall Grass keeps the soul vibe going, organ, bongos, handclaps, building into a loose funky jam that just sounds delicious. Stephen Morris (New Order) and Pete Salisbury (Verve) are among the drummers guesting on the album and it is testament to the band that they can accommodate them with ease and sound so good.

Feel free in the tall grass
Letting go of the past

Emilie is another gorgeous track, piercing guitar, beautiful harmonies and the band just sounding as good as they ever have. Cracking drumming on this as well.

The Charlatans are in stunning form throughout Modern Nature, it is an exceptionally strong album and its centrepiece lies Let The Good Times Be Never Ending.  The chorus flows and soars several times before the band take off on a loose spacey jam complete with horns and gospel singers. Tony Rodgers is on fire on the organ.

We know each other
I get the love that you're sending
Let the good times be never ending

The album does take a darker turn with I Need You To Know. The drumming and strings bring an UNKLE style vibe to the song at time, it has that kind of menacing element to it that a lot of James Lavelle's work has.

I could have said, I should have said
It's always the same
Can I tell you before it's too late?

The band zip through Lean In before a cracking beat and big house piano chords bring in Trouble Understanding. The latter is controlled just when you think it is going to take off.

Burgess sounds superb throughout the album and his vocals on Lot To Say are exceptional, layered at times for a dreamy psychedelic effect. There is the same dreamy vibe going on with the music, it's got to be a loose fit.

The Charlatans have been a remarkably consistent band throughout their existence and they have produced yet another cracking album with loads of variety and lots of depth.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Miss You by Velveteen Saints

Miss You is the latest song to be released by Velveteen Saints, one of my current favourite bands on the Glasgow/Scottish unsigned/DIY scene.

Velveteen Saints stand out for me for a number of reasons; they are 4 young lads with guitars and attitude who have excellent taste in music (embracing The Clash and The Marychain for starters) and they look they are having the time of their lives when they play live on stage. They can fly through guitar punk pop tunes crammed with melodies, hooks and a raw edge in well under 3-minutes.

That raw edge is what makes them stand out. They are not over produced, they are one of the few 'guitar' bands that are not using synths or keyboards. The electric guitars are to the fore.

Miss You is just over 150 seconds of beautiful thrashy guitar punk pop. Steaming in from the opening riff and snarls, hitting the chorus at just under 30-seconds. They pack a lot in, even managing a guitar solo/instrumental before hammering home the chorus.

Oh my love I still miss you
And oh my love I still care for you
And oh my love I can't go on
Feeling, as I do

The band are keen to build momentum following early promise that led to supports with The Charlatans and a European tour with The View who are real champions of the band. Miss You is released as a download only single via iTunes and follows on from Postcards from Rome, their official debut single available on very limited 7-inch vinyl via local label Dead Beet Records.

The band play Broadcast on Thursday 29th January as part of Independent Venue Week.

Friday 16 January 2015

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Belle and Sebastian have mixed quality and quantity extremely well through the years. Their early output in particular was pretty phenomenal as they released non-album EP's, quickly building up an extensive back catalogue that was the envy of many.

Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance is their ninth album, an excellent return in the 19-years since the release of Tigermilk. All of the stuff that I love about Belle and Sebastian (and much, much more) is displayed on this album. This is a band that still have so much to give - developing as musicians and artists, always pushing to improve.

Nobody's Empire is melodic, upbeat, playful with a gospel tinge at times and has that Belle's feel about it - pure, soulful. The piano melody is gorgeous. Stuart Murdoch's vocals are exquisite, he really goes for it towards the end, his band gelling and flowing superbly with him.

Murdoch's ability to match his unique lyrics with catchy melodies is showcased on Allie that sounds like it could easily fit in with material from the Dear Catastrophe Waitress era.

The Party Line comes in like a synth 80's disco party with added funky guitar and cowbells. If Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance then so do the Belles! Anyone who has seen Stuart dancing when they play live will confirm that. I remember seeing him years and years ago at an indie club in Glasgow at the Woodside Social and he is quite a mover!

Anyway, enough memories, The Party Line is excellent, still definitely Belle and Sebastian but with added freshness and zest.

Stuart busting some moves

Sarah takes lead vocals for The Power of Three, full of beautiful melodies and funny yet meaningful lyrics, like searching for answers by reading 3 horoscopes rather than one.

nobody can tell what' down the road for us

The pace slows for The Cat with the Cream with Stuart almost whispering over soaring strings. I can imagine this being pretty powerful and emotive when they play it live at the Hydro with the Scottish National Orchestra.

Down amongst the old city chambers
Men in frocks debate on the policy changes

The pace picks up considerably with Enter Sylvia Plath which takes us back to high NRG 80's disco, coming in sounding like The Communards before Stuart's distinctive vocals remind us that this is Belle and Sebastian.

The Belles mix it up again with The Everlasting Muse, all funky bass, choppy guitars and cool keys with a dark edge. The change in pace and style around 1 minute 50 seconds in took me by surprise, a magical surprise. Belle and Sebastian are incredibly capable and intelligent musicians with fantastic taste and knowledge of guitar pop music and they really showcase it on this beauty. A real standout on first listen, with so much to enjoy and take in I went straight back for a second and third listen.

The interplay between Stuart and Sarah is sublime, Stuart is in sensational form and the band gel superbly throughout the song, particularly on the closing minute.

She says be popular, play pop
And you will win my love

Bongo drums, percussion and housey/disco female vocals in the background usher in Perfect Couples before the beat kicks in along with Stevie Jackson's disco style guitar.

Stevie also takes on lead vocals. Outwith the band Stevie has assembled a group of friends to play a few joyous shows under the guise of Disco Shark. He has definitely taken that vibe to the rest of the band. Perfect Couples is a delightful disco romp. Brilliant.

Stevie (far left) with Disco Shark at Kelvingrove Bowl

Ever Had A Little Faith is probably the most 'old school' Belles style song on the album; beautifully strummed acoustic guitars, Stuart telling stories, asking questions. It is rather gorgeous.

Play for Today brings back the disco vibe for an epic 7-minutes and 30 seconds. Stuart takes on the start of the song before Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls comes in, sounding incredible, her vocals really suit this song, lifting it high. This is a sensational song, one of the best things they have done, I can't wait to see and hear it live. Listen to it and get lost in it is my advice.

Oooft it's pretty hard to top a track like that, so the band bring it down with The Book Of You with Sarah taking lead vocals. Stuart and Sarah sing in tandem as the song romps gloriously towards conclusion. We're always walking in the rain....

Today (This Army's for Peace) is a beautiful dreamy closer to a brilliant album.

Belle and Sebastian tour extensively returning to Glasgow for a huge show at the Hydro on 22nd May with the Scottish National Orchestra. The album is out on Monday 19th January 2015.

Wednesday 14 January 2015


With no press release, promo pics, little notice and to very little fan fare (to date), Flash Talk from Glasgow released their debut album on Christmas Day 2014. Sparks To Fire is utterly sensational, I'm honestly struggling to put into words how good, how assured, ambitious, soulful, true and beautiful this album is. I'll give it a go!

Flash Talk came on to the scene a year ago with two videos for their songs Synthesise and Miracle. They then promptly disappeared to complete an album - returning as a 7-piece with a superb work of art.

Synthesise kicks in with huge synths before a beat brings in the bass. The song flows superbly but it goes up a notch towards the end with the glorious 'every time you touch me' section with stunning harmonies before a laser brings everything back in.

Try to catch your breath.

Automatic is kind of Bowie meets Kraftwerk produced by Arthur Russell. A robot love song. The production throughout the album is crystal clear. The Kraftwerk style section sends warm tingles down my spine.

Automatic when I needed you (x3)
Automatic when I needed you (x3)
Automatic when I needed you (x3)

The love you take will make or break you
The love you take, the love you make

The album cover is apt, this is a band reaching for the stars. Miracle is the kind of song that Coldplay would kill for. The closing 1 minute and 20 seconds is like nothing else you will have heard all year - reaching for the stars and jetting past them to Mars.

Tiny Little Sparks is explosive, the beautiful guitar riff bringing a sense of calm before the menacing bass and beat kick in and the chorus makes you punch the air in delight. A soaring anthem with a Who style breakdown before the riff lifts you into the stratosphere.

Did I mention the production - listen to We're All Cruel on headphones, it is an incredible song with production to match. The funky bass and beats that kick in on the second verse are incredible. The closing outro screams remix.

I never share my dreams when I'm awake
Cause I dream of escape

Land of the Lost Cause is a magical, mystery poem, cinematic in terms of lyrics and feeling. The explosion back into life at 2 minutes and 45 seconds is spine tingling.

The burst of energy that is urges a love to Run to the Horizon on the chorus of the song is infectious. You feel like you are wanting the characters in this song (and the album) to make it, to get away, to escape.

If this fire ever, ever flickers out
I'll be singing of a lost cause til the end of time
Let's run to the horizon
We're on fire, fire, now

Sparks to Fire is currently my favourite song on a very strong album, starting with a spoken word sample before developing into something quite remarkable, full of ambition. Unrushed, beautiful vocals with real feeling, it just gets better and better as it goes on and with each listen.

Run to the Horizon and Sparks To Fire are both over 5-minutes long and feel like they are the real centrepiece of the album.

The album is full of love, hope, fear, a sense of something better being out there but being along; Whispering Song contains many of these themes and is as assured and soulful as the rest of the album.

We were living a different life
We were fighting a different fight
You were never at my side when you saw the light
Who are you to hold me in your arms?

The album closes with Fire Went Out, a gorgeous acoustic soul ballad. The closing section is just magical and could bring a tear to a glass eye, taking on a gospel/americana flavour.

We are lazy dreamers, we don't know when our fire went out

Quite an incredible album. No gigs have been announced to date so simply enjoy the album for the time being by visiting Flash Talk at Bandcamp.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

15 things to look forward to in Scottish Music in 2015

There is always loads to look forward to in the Scottish music scene - new material and shows from established Scottish acts, new acts breaking through and all kinds of bands and artists dropping by to play shows and festivals....oh and what is pretty much officially 'the best audience in the world.'

1. Teenage Fanclub - new album and extensive touring
As this blog is named after their debut single I'll start with news that the new Teenage Fanclub album will be dropping in time for summer with Norman Blake adding that they are planning 'extensive touring'. Their summer show in 2014 at the Kelvingrove Bandstand was utterly magical and I hope they grace some outdoor stages in 2015. A Barrowland show would be nice too!

2. Belle and Sebastian - new album and the Hydro
Belle and Sebastian's new album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance (their ninth) is due out later this month (look out for a review on a future blog) and they have a huge show planned for the Hydro in May - complete with the Scottish Festival Orchestra.

3. White at the Poetry Club
I heard about White via the series of guest end of year review blogs I ran at the end of 2014. Gordon from Vigo Thieves turned me on to their song Living Fiction. The funky disco like guitars and Talking Heads style vocals got me interested immediately.

I then heard through the grapevine that labels have been flying up to watch them rehearse in Glasgow.  Expect their gigs at the Poetry Club to feature a few scouts up to check them out. They could be the hottest shows in town since Chvrches played their debut show at the Art School.

Sadly, the shows sold out instantly. Give me a shout if you hear of a ticket going!

4. King Tut's Wah Wah Hut turns 25
King Tut's has already announced a series of shows to celebrate them turning 25 - The Cribs and The Courteneers both play in February and are the biggest to date. Look out for some more shows through the year once other acts finalise their touring schedules.

Any spare dates around Noel Gallagher playing the Hydro?....

5. T in the Park moves to a new site
The move has been well publicised and I expect loads of details to be announced next month - but T in the Park is moving from Balado to Strathallan Castle, also in Perthshire and a mere 1 hour away from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. I expect they will want to make a real statement, so I'm anticipating some big names when the line up is announced.

6. The SAY Award
The SAY Award has been a very welcome addition to the Scottish music scene, creating exposure, debate and reward. It would appear to be a very open playing field and a winner could come from heavyweights like Mogwai or from someone like Fatherson or Beerjacket. Young Fathers could well come back to the double after winning in 2014. Twin Atlantic and The Twilight Sad should certainly make the long list.

7. Kelvingrove Bandstand shows?
What a fantastic venue. If we get another glorious (well most of the time) summer then I really hope their are some shows booked in for the Bandstand. Nothing has been announced to date though.

8. Huge stadium shows
The Foo Fighters and AC/DC are bringing their mighty riffs to Scotland this summer. I wouldn't bet against some more massive shows being arranged for stadiums or Bellahouston Park which has hosted shows by the likes of The Killers and Kings Of Leon over the last couple of summers.

9. 15 unsigned/DIY bands to look out for
Vigo Thieves and Fatherson have been on the verge of breaking through for a while, gaining excellent reviews and exposure and headlining huge shows of their own at the ABC in Glasgow. Will a label come in and give them that leg boost to the next level?

Vigo Thieves certainly have the anthems that deserve a shot at the big time. Fatherson's devoted fan base is reminding a lot of people of the love Biffy Clyro inspired as they were going up and their album has given them a real platform to build upon. La Fontaines are not really my own personal cup of tea (although I think the drummer is funny and cool) but they have also headlined the ABC and are doing well, with a new single due in April.

side stage view from Vigo Thieves at the ABC

Model Aeroplanes are a group of teenagers from Dundee who are going from strength to strength; getting seen in all the right places, playing festivals and earning great support slots. With a trip to SXSW sorted for March, who knows what will happen.

Other acts that seem to be getting good reviews just now include Jim Valentine, Neon Waltz (who have signed with the Oasis management team)and I am personally very fond of the electronic soundscapes of Atom Tree and the pure pop of TeenCanteen, both of whom will at the very least be releasing singles or EP's in 2015.

TeenCanteen - melodies, hooks and harmonies to die for

Kloe is a young 18-year old who released a single via Neon Gold in December - the same label/blog that propelled Chvrches to the ears of many. So look out for her moving forwards very quickly. She is working with Lewis from PRIDES and the lovely Chris from Fatherson.

Flash Talk released their incredible debut album Sparks To Fire on Christmas Day. I can't recommend it highly enough and will be blogging about it in the near future.

Monogram, to my knowledge, is one guy, creating epic guitar pop/rock from the Borders. His song Romance (below)has been picked up by radio and if he has more tunes like this up his sleeve then he should gather some label interest.

Velveteen Saints are a band I've been following for a while and they have picked up excellent supports from The Charlatans and The View. If they pick up some momentum through self releases or little labels like Dead Beet Records, then they could go places.

Crash Club are a band gathering momentum and if they release an album in 2015 then they could really move forwards. Beautifully produced with excellent live shows and guest vocalists, this is also music ready to soundtrack TV and commercials.

Machines In Heaven are on the DIY label Hot Gem alongside Atom Tree. A well received album, EP, live shows and festival appearances mean they head into 2015 in red hot form and full of confidence.

Lastly, United Fruit are a band building towards the release of their latest album. Radio play has been well received (including daytime Radio 1) and word on the street is that the album is full of their raw energy with a pop edge. The songs released to radio certainly point towards bands like Foo Fighters.

United Fruit

10. Prides
Signed to Island Records, (they originally signed as Midnight Lion and then underwent a radical transformation into a pop band) Prides had a productive 2014 and are surely now at the stage where they just need the right song to allow them to break through and then follow that up with an album. Regardless - they seem in it for the long haul and are in demand for production and co-writing. Look out for them on the new Aqualung album this year which they have a co-write on.

11. Legends
I love a show by a seasoned veteran with an extensive back catalogue to call upon. McCartney, Neil Young, The Who, Candi Staton, Martha Reeves, Dylan, Brian Wilson....I've seen loads over the years.

I already have tickets for Van Morrison and Gladys Knight this year. Both play the Royal Concert Hall this year - tickets are not cheap so I'm pretty thankful to my brother for treating me for my birthday and Christmas!

I was fortunate to catch Bobby Womack last January, only a few months before he sadly passed away. If there are any legends coming to town then act fast - you never know how long they will be around for.

Gladys Knight - back in the day

12. Electric Fields
Electric Fields is a new festival on the Scottish music calendar. It features the best in up and coming bands, is set in the grounds of a castle and the ticket price is exceptional. Sold? If not, check this promo video from the festivals first year in 2014.

13. Chvrches second album
The hype surrounding Chvrches debut album was pretty insane. The band ignored it, confident with their music and craft and carried on as normal, touring around the world through 2013 and 2014, making new friends and fans along the way.

They have somehow found the time to get the bones of a second album in place and rumours are that it will be out in 2015. The debut was full of depth - bitter sweet lyrics entwined with pop melodies, synths and beats with real thought. I look forward to the follow up.

14. Dr Cosmos Tape Lab
Two friends mentioned this band and their self released debut Ever Evolving Lounge to me within a week. Two friends who have excellent taste in music. Word of mouth is a great way to discover music and their lysergic pop album was full of Beatles-y melodies and hooks with a bit of home made Beta Band thrown in for good measure at times.

Their second album Beyond The Silver Sea will be released on Sugarbush Records in March.

They are a breath of fresh air, they couldn't care less about what is cool and who they should be sending their music to. This duo simply want to create good music and get it out there - and they do that superbly.

15. A surprise
There is a lot going on that I am aware of, but one of the things I look forward to most is being surprised - or at least I hope I am. Stumbling into a bar to discover a great local band/artist, getting to a gig early to find a brilliant young support band, tuning into Vic Galloway and hearing a stunning tune from an emerging Scottish act, walking into a tent at a festival and discovering a new favourite band or reading about something in a blog that I like the sound of.

Miaoux Miaoux - who will hopefully be releasing new material in 2015

Sunday 4 January 2015

Blog Sound Of 2015 - Lapsley

Blogs are becoming increasingly important in breaking artists, a prime Scottish example being Chvrches who exploded as a result of their debut single Lies being released  through the blog/label Neon Gold

The Blog Sound of Poll is organised by the Breaking More Waves blog -  set up as an experiment to see if music bloggers would choose different emerging acts to those on the ubiquitous BBC Sound of Poll. However as bloggers vote around the same time as those voting for the BBC poll vote there is no way of knowing if they will choose the same artists or different ones. This year 3 of the 15 acts on the BBC list were also on the Blog Sound list. (Låpsley, Shura and Soak).  Previous winners are Banks, Marika Hackman, Haim and Friends.

The 15 most voted for acts which formed the full Blog Sound of 2015 longlist announced in early December 2014 were: All We Are, Black Honey, Chloe Black, Coasts, Deers, Fickle Friends, Flyte, Halfrican, Honne, Låpsley, Prides, Shura, Soak, Sophie Jamieson, Tei Shi

And the winner is.....Liverpool's Holly Lapsley Fletcher has been named the winner of the Blog Sound of 2015, a poll of 62 UK based music bloggers. Each blogger was asked to vote for their 3 favourite emerging artists.

Låpsley was the clear winner of the poll with double the number of points than any other act on the 15 strong long list.

The producer and songwriter became an instant hit with music bloggers when she uploaded her song Station to Soundcloud towards the end of 2013. She subsequently signed to XL records in 2014 and releases her debut EP for the label on January 5th.

Låpsley is a worthy winner; gorgeous, heartbreaking vocals over minimal beats and electro. She has already released some DIY singles and EP's and i have spent the last week listening to them - they are beautiful. I look forward to seeing how she progresses under the brilliant XL Recordings.

Check the stunning Painter (Valentine) for starters;

The blogs that voted for the Blog Sound of 2015:

17 Seconds, A New Band A Day, A Pocket Full Of Seeds, A World Of Music And Madness, Across The Kitchen Table, Alphabet Bands, Beat Surrender, Beat2aChord, Both Bars On, Brapscallions, Bratfaced LDN, Breaking More Waves, Brighton Music Blog, Daisy Digital, Dots And Dashes, Drunken Werewolf, Echoes and Dust, Electronic Rumors, Even The Stars, Everything Flows, Getintothis, God Is In The TV, Hearty Vibes, Hitsville UK, I Love Pie, Just Music That I Like, Kemptation, Like 1999, Lipstick Disco, Little Indie Blogs, Love Music : Love Life, Music Broke My Bones, Music Liberation, Music Like Dirt, My Day By Day Music, Never Enough Notes, Not Many Experts, Notes For A Road Sign, One Album A Week, Popped Music, Queen Beetch, Rave Child, Scientists Of Sound, Some Of It Is True, Song By Toad, Sounds Good To Me Too, Sound Of Now Music, Spectral Nights, Sweeping The Nation, The Blue Walrus, The Devil Has The Best Tuna, The Electricity Club, The Evening's Empire, The Mad Mackerel, The Metaphorical Boat, The Paper Penguins, This Must Be Pop, Thoughts On Music, Three Beams, Too Many Blogs, The VPME, What If I Had A Music Blog.

You can hear Låpsley's music here :